Big Box Retailers Buying Into Influencer Marketing

November 13, 2018

By Jeff Weber


Walmart is developing an omnichannel approach that includes growing its e-commerce base. It started in 2016 with the purchase of the e-commerce site Jet and the influencer marketing community Collective Bias. Walmart has since acquired six more direct-to-consumer retailers including ModCloth and Bonobos in 2017, and most recently Eloquii. All of Walmart's recent acquisitions have several things in common: they're all dot-coms with influencers at the fore of their marketing strategy.

In fact, the influencer strategy is key to how companies like Bonobos and Eloquii go-to-market and connect with their customers. Influencers are authentic and can have conversations with consumers that enable brands to listen and respond directly to customer needs. For example, through influencer campaigns, Eloquii was able to gain insights that its market was looking for work apparel solutions. Not only did the online retailer listen and use the information strategically, Eloquii was also able to prove its value to its customers.

As we move forward we'll see brands like Walmart, Nordstrom, and Target are starting to think about how to use influencer marketing in a strategic way. Not every mega-retailer can or will buy an influencer platform, and with it a deeper understanding of the influencer space. But we can expect more legacy retail brands to try differentiating themselves by leveraging influencer marketing in a few ways: building relationships with influencers, using data to measure impact, and leveraging authentic influencer content.


Building Relationships and Brand Advocacy

Influencer marketing is becoming less transactional. Instead of developing one-off influencer campaigns, retailers like Nordstrom and Target are focusing on strategic influencer relationships. For example, Nordstrom worked with influential fashion blogger Arielle Charnas from Something Navy to create an in-house line called Treasure and Bond. The 2017 collection was so successful that the chain is working with Charnas to launch another collection this fall.

Similarly, Target is building relationships with younger influencers to sell everything from clothing to toys, and the retail giant sees building strategic relationships as its focus moving forward. Not only does Target work directly with influencers, its focus is also on partnering with influencers who know and love the Target brand.


Using Data to Measure Campaign Impact

Target is also leveraging the data from influencer marketing in a smart and sophisticated way. The retailer is vigilant about measuring the impact of its campaigns in a way that wasn't really possible with traditional media. With something like TV, you don't really know who's on the other side of the screen or how they'll respond to a particular commercial. With influencer marketing platforms like Buzzoole, campaigns generate data on click-throughs, likes, sales, and engagement. Marketers are able to gain actionable insights and measure the efficacy of every campaign.


Leveraging the Power of Influencer Content

Obviously user reviews are important. However, Amazon's Spark experiment, which featured influencer reviews, failed because it provided no real value for influencers. Much like brands, influencers are starting to think strategically and expect some sort of return from their brand relationships — not just free merchandise.

Walmart's approach to influencer content is unique in that it provides influencers with the tools to embed "buy" buttons on their blogs. In this way, Walmart allows influencers to feature products and interact with their communities authentically. The button also drives traffic directly from influencer blogs to Walmart e-commerce sites as well. Not only is this an incredibly creative and intelligent way to leverage influencers, it will differentiate Walmart as it looks to compete in the e-commerce space. What's more, this strategy enables the retailer to gain a better understanding of influencer impact and consumer willingness to buy products.


The Future of Big Brand Influencer Marketing

The next step for brands working with influencers is to get clear on exactly what they want to achieve by partnering with influencers. Currently, the majority of the influencer evaluations uses new followers and cost per engagement as a metric for success. However, the right influencer partnerships are capable of so much more. Moving forward, retail brands will look for influencer partnerships that can drive authentic connections as well as conversions. Finding the right cadence of the messaging is essential to move consumers through the purchase funnel, and smart retail and e-commerce brands will continue to develop strategic influencer marketing campaigns that deliver a consistent message to consumers, and drive conversion into revenue.


Jeff Weber is the director of brand partnerships at Buzzoole.

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